Scott of the Antarctic
Writing About Scott
Shockingly, Scott was not the author of some of his most famous lines. The poet Longfellow was. My original research was published by The Paris Review in 2012.
In 2011, a volume of photographs taken by Scott was published.
Here is my review of it.
While writing my book of poems about historical figures, I knew I needed to include a 20th century explorer whose name had become synonymous with legend — and there were many to choose from. Most of them we know because of their success. But my book wasn’t necessarily about the people who’d achieved their aims. I’m more interested in those who don’t quite make it, who fall by the wayside, or who fail spectacularly.
Scott of the Antarctic seemed the perfect choice: known by a moniker commemorating the place which made him a national icon in the most unusual fashion: though he lost the race to the South Pole (Amundsen beat him by a month) and died a horrible death with his party on the return journey, he won it in the hearts and minds of his countrymen.
The manner in which he did so speaks a great deal about the 20th century and its heroes. He may have been a terrible explorer, but he was a gifted writer, and the journals he left behind detailing his expedition, and published posthumously, became the standard for what it meant to be an Englishman, a patriot, and a role model for generations of boys who in turn died with dignity in the world wars which followed. The words he left behind bring chills to those who read them even now.
The more I read about Scott, the more fascinated I became with the paradox of his fame. I was, like many before me, seduced by the landscape and daily life he described from the lonely perspective of a British naval officer. The more I read, the more I noticed about what others had or hadn’t explored in his story, and found that Scott is a polarizing figure among scholars in ways that still arouse great passions and allegiances today.
Along the way, I made some discoveries of my own and began to piece together an alternate way of looking at his expedition and its legacy that I had not seen discussed anywhere else. Several visits to the archives housed at the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) at Cambridge, England, allowed me to confirm my leads and gather invaluable information the public has never seen.
SCOTT'S LAST BLOG
When I embarked on my Scott adventure, I decided to utilize a relatively new medium; if Scott was doing his expedition today, I reasoned he would be blogging, instead of journaling — so I created Scott’s Last Blog, a real-time recreation of his journal (amalgamated with other first-hand accounts), which lasted for the duration of his last expedition (three years). It gained a loyal worldwide following, and though I had to cease writing it when Scott died (in March 1912/2011), it continues to draw a large readership.